Never published in Beauvoir's lifetime, this novel offers insight into the groundbreaking feminist's own coming-of-age and her transformative, tragic friendship with her childhood friend Zaza Lacoin, depicted here as Andrée.
The drama...lies in the tension between these competing and imperfectly requited loves for Andrée: first the loves of Sylvie and Madame Gallard, then the love of Pascal, a joyful Catholic philosopher (the Merleau-Ponty figure) who allows Andrée to imagine that she might reconcile duty and happiness—at least until he begins to delay proposing marriage to her. The problem that preoccupies the novel is not who loves Andrée best but what kind of love would grant her the freedom she craves ... The novel leaps from one glorious tableau to another of Andrée in divine solitude, praying or playing her violin in a park. Alongside Sylvie, we, as readers, stop, stay, and bear witness to an outpouring of reverence ... The unpretending beauty of passages...derives from an aesthetic of distance ... The novel restores Zaza to her rightful place as a subject, presenting her as a singular being, incomparable and ultimately unknowable to the narrator herself. It is propelled by the jealous, curious, melancholy, and blissful contractions of eros without any expectation of reciprocity. The Andrée / Zaza figure is permitted to live and die on her own terms, her story untethered from the future fame or philosophical rationalizations of the narrator, who is, in these pages, nobody of note at all ... What Beauvoir...calls the 'pure literary artifice' of speaking to a mute, inglorious reader points to the sincere friendship and queer love tangled deep in the heart of her writing.
Fluidly translated by Sandra Smith ... Beauvoir the novelist allows us to feel the suffocating weight of an entire society ... Most disturbing are the ways in which Andrée, who remains fervently devout and unsparingly devoted to her mother, internalizes the destructive impulses of a culture that consumes and constrains her ... Simone, at least, would not be sacrificed on the altar of convention and domesticity. Inseparable makes the terms of this commitment on her part crushingly clear.
Andrée’s bold and playful tone is captured perfectly in Lauren Elkin’s translation from the French, which conveys, in pared-down prose, Andrée’s beguiling sensibility and the ways in which Sylvie is enraptured by her ... Sylvie is endearingly vulnerable because she risks loving Andrée. The idolised subject of her affection does not reciprocate the strength of her feelings, nor does she believe herself to be lovable. What I find most touching...is the description of Sylvie losing her faith.